US President Joe Biden landed in Asia on Saturday vowing to urge Chinese leader Xi Jinping to rein in North Korea when they hold their first face-to-face meeting at next week’s G20 summit.
Biden touched down in Phnom Penh for meetings with Southeast Asian leaders ahead of his encounter with his Chinese counterpart on Monday in Bali.
The meeting between the two superpowers comes after a record-breaking spate of missile tests by North Korea sent fears soaring that the reclusive state would soon conduct its seventh nuclear test.
In Monday’s meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit, Biden will tell Xi that China – Pyongyang’s biggest ally – has “an interest in playing a constructive role in restraining North Korea’s worst tendencies,” US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters.
Biden will also tell Xi that if North Korea’s missile and nuclear build-up “keeps going down this road, it will simply mean further enhanced American military and security presence in the region.”
Sullivan said Biden would not make demands on China but rather give Xi “his perspective.”
This is that “North Korea represents a threat not just to the United States, not just to (South Korea) and Japan but to peace and stability across the entire region.”
Whether China wants to increase pressure on North Korea is “of course up to them”, Sullivan said.
However, with North Korea rapidly ramping up its missile capacities, “the operational situation is more acute in the current moment”, Sullivan said.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida added his voice to calls for concerted international action to halt Pyongyang’s missile programme during talks with ASEAN, China and South Korea.
Tokyo and Seoul have been increasingly alarmed by the North Korean testing blitz, which included an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Biden and Xi, the leaders of the world’s two biggest economies, have spoken by phone multiple times since Biden became president in January 2021.
But the COVID-19 pandemic and Xi’s subsequent aversion to foreign travel have prevented them from meeting in person.
The pair are not short of topics to discuss, with Washington and Beijing at loggerheads over issues ranging from trade to human rights in China’s Xinjiang region and the status of the self-ruled island of Taiwan.
UN chief Antonio Guterres has urged the two sides to work together, warning Friday of “a growing risk that the global economy will be divided into two parts, led by the two biggest economies – the United States and China.”
Before the G20, Biden will push the US’s commitment to Southeast Asia in meetings with leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), seeking to counter Beijing’s influence in the region.
China has been flexing its muscles – through trade, diplomacy and military clout – in recent years in a region it sees as its strategic backyard.
Biden flew into Phnom Penh with an agenda emphasising his administration’s policy of “elevating” the US presence in the region as a guarantor of stability, Sullivan said.
Biden will argue for “the need for freedom of navigation for lawful, unimpeded commerce, and for ensuring that the United States is playing a constructive role in maintaining peace and stability in the region.”